Spamalot is full of medieval tomfoolery

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King Arthur and the Lady of Lake welcome the Knights of the Very Round Table to Camelot in the Vermont Family Theater production of Spamalot.  From left to right, in the back row, are Joan Racine, Donna Arnold, Lucas Roy, Jade Piette, Greg Tocci, and Rachel Carter.  Seated in the middle row are the knights:  Jake Blankenship, Brendan Hadash, Todd Jones, and Zeb McCoy.  In front are Alan Franklin, Deborah MacKay, and Cassie Tarbox.  Photos by Joseph Gresser

King Arthur and the Lady of Lake welcome the Knights of the Very Round Table to Camelot in the Vermont Family Theater production of Spamalot. From left to right, in the back row, are Joan Racine, Donna Arnold, Lucas Roy, Jade Piette, Greg Tocci, and Rachel Carter. Seated in the middle row are the knights: Jake Blankenship, Brendan Hadash, Todd Jones, and Zeb McCoy. In front are Alan Franklin, Deborah MacKay, and Cassie Tarbox. Photos by Joseph Gresser

copyright the Chronicle April 9, 2014

by Joseph Gresser

ORLEANS — In days of yore a band of bold men adventured across the green and pleasant land of England.  Their adventures have been repeated down through the generations and continue to inspire listeners to this day.

I’m speaking, of course, of Monty Python, the progenitors of the musical comedy now playing at the Orleans Municipal Building — Spamalot.

The show, written by Eric Idle, one of the Pythons, opened on Broadway in 2005, where it had a very successful four-year run.  It has now made its way to Orleans in the form of a very entertaining production by the Vermont Family Theater.

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Community Justice Part II: Senate bill pushes new ways to deal with crime

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The theory of restorative justice is neatly summed up in this chart created by John Perry, whose work helped in the creation of Vermont’s system.  “I’ve used this chart in presentations around the country,” Mr. Perry said when asked for permission to use the diagram.  “It might as well be published in Vermont.”

The theory of restorative justice is neatly summed up in this chart created by John Perry, whose work helped in the creation of Vermont’s system. “I’ve used this chart in presentations around the country,” Mr. Perry said when asked for permission to use the diagram. “It might as well be published in Vermont.”

copyright the Chronicle March 19, 2014

by Joseph Gresser

If a bill passed last week by the Vermont Senate becomes law, it will be the latest step in Vermont’s very long struggle to find new, and better, ways to deal with criminals.  That struggle began about 20 years ago, with a group of young idealists, led by a visionary Westmore man, reshaping how justice is meted out.

The recently approved Senate bill would allow some offenders — primarily those who pose no threat to public safety — the option of participating in a nontraditional program, such as the community justice program that operates in Newport.

Its intent is “that law enforcement officials and criminal justice professionals develop and maintain programs at every stage of the criminal justice system to provide alternatives to a traditional punitive criminal justice response….”

In the nontraditional reparative justice program, community volunteers work with an offender to develop a plan for making amends to the victims of his crime and to repair the damage done by his actions.

That program was developed about two decades ago by a group of young workers at the state Department of Corrections (DOC), with support from several governors and an important contribution from a longtime resident of Westmore, Bill Page.

In the 1970s the nation was seized by a fear of violent crime, and a concern that prisons were not fulfilling the intended purpose of rehabilitation.  John Martinson, a noted researcher on the subject, grew pessimistic about the results of all the programs he investigated.

He wrote an article for the magazine Public Interest setting out his findings, an article whose conclusion, usually summarized under the heading “Nothing works,” was spread throughout the popular media.

Around the country, prisons were generally seen only as a means to keep offenders from harming law-abiding citizens.  Legislators followed the public mood and voted for increasingly harsh sentences for all manner of offenses.

A group of new officials at the Vermont DOC, however, thought they could find a solution to what seemed an intractable problem.

“We were arrogant, brash and young enough not to know better,” recalled John Perry in a recent telephone interview.  Mr. Perry retired from the DOC as director of planning in 2011.  “We thought we could make a difference,” he said.

They began in ignorance.

“We knew crime was increasing — increasing like crazy in the late ’70s and ’80s,” Mr. Perry said.

What the young officials at the DOC did not know was that the increase was in reported crime, not actual crime.

In the late ’60s and early ’70s, Vermont experienced an influx of new residents coming from other parts of the country.  One of the things they brought with them was an expectation of what government was supposed to do, Mr. Perry said.  As a result, the new residents tended to call police for assistance more often than the locals had.

As in other states, Vermont legislators reacted to what they perceived as an increase in crime by increasing penalties in an attempt to stem it.

The result, recalled former DOC Commissioner John Gorczyk in a telephone interview, was “an explosion in incarceration without an increase in crime.”

The DOC, in those days, was “underfunded, overcrowded and under-loved,” Mr. Perry said.

But young, idealistic officials were put in a position to make changes to the system when Governor Richard Snelling brought William Ciuros to Vermont to take over the DOC.  Mr. Ciuros forced the department’s old guard out and installed “the new kids” in their place, Mr. Perry said.

Those included Joseph Patrissi, then deputy commissioner, Mr. Gorczyk, and Mr. Perry.  Mr. Patrissi is currently executive director of Northeast Kingdom Community Action (NEKCA).

Mr. Ciuros got his deputies to cut their long hair and change their attire from woolen shirts to suits.

“We worked 12 hour days,” Mr. Perry recalled.  “I never worked so hard in my life.”

Mr. Ciuros soon ran afoul of Governor Snelling and was dismissed, to be replaced by Con Hogan, but his team remained in place.

Among other initiatives, they started letting nonviolent offenders serve their sentences in the community, or on weekends, so they could continue working, Mr. Patrissi said.

That program hit a hard bump when the son of vice-presidential candidate Geraldine Farraro was arrested at Middlebury College with two and a half pounds of cocaine, said Mr. Perry.

He met the qualifications for release, except for having a residence in Vermont, Mr. Perry recalled.  That was quickly managed, but the national media soon descended on Vermont to photograph the sign saying “luxury condominiums” outside his apartment complex, Mr. Perry said.

Madeleine Kunin had just been elected governor, and she tried to provide political cover for the DOC by creating the Community Corrections Advisory Board, Mr. Patrissi said.

She appointed Mr. Page to the board, as well as John Downs, a founding partner at Downs, Rachlin and Martin, and Fay Honey Knopp, a director of the Safer Society Foundation.  The Safer Society program is a national referral service for sex offenders seeking therapy.  She was also the founder of the Prison Research Education Action Program.  Also on the committee was Jack Coleman, a former president of Haverford College who spent a sabbatical from his job as an inmate at a Pennsylvania prison.  Mr. Coleman was a friend of the warden, who was the only one who knew he was there voluntarily, Mr. Perry said.

Mr. Patrissi and Mr. Page had already met, at a book club meeting at Mr. Page’s house on Willoughby Lake where both men spent summers.

After the meeting, Mr. Page, who knew Mr. Patrissi was commissioner of corrections, approached him.

“He asked, ‘How would you like to know something about human nature?’” Mr. Patrissi recalled.  “I’d been in corrections 20 years and I was schooled in that side of human nature,” he said.

Mr. Page had been director of corporate planning at the Polaroid Corporation during that firm’s glory years and had learned from the work of E.O. Wilson, a sociobiologist and the world’s foremost expert on ants.  Professor Wilson’s work, which traced the genetic basis of human nature, was being used by Polaroid in its marketing efforts, Mr. Patrissi said.

If Mr. Page decided someone was worthy of his attention, he’d latch on to that person as a teacher, said Mr. Gorczyk.  Both Mr. Perry and Mr. Patrissi called him a mentor.

Mr. Page began running a kind of school for DOC officials, inviting them to his house, or taking them down to the Cambridge, Massachusetts, headquarters of Polaroid for classes with him or other experts.

As Mr. Perry recalled, he outlined some of the basic principles of human nature, including an innate fear of strangers, a preference for working in groups of around six members and, most importantly, the principle of reciprocity.

“If I buy you a drink at a bar,” Mr. Perry said to explain reciprocity, “you had better buy the next round.  If I have to buy the second round, there won’t be a third one, and we won’t be friends.”

Working with Mr. Page and Mr. Downs, the group began to feel its way toward the system of reparative justice.

All felt that a real system of justice had to begin by putting the victim at its center, something that the English system of law, which was largely adopted by most U.S. states, did not do.

A reading of history, Mr. Perry said, shows the English originally had a system of law that rated the worth of an individual by his or her rank and punished offenses with fines that were proportional to the crime.

The basic idea, Mr. Perry said, was that a village needed all of its citizens if it was to function, so disputes had to be resolved in a way that would not cause the loss of someone’s skills to the community.

When William the Conqueror took over England in 1066, he assigned his son the task of creating a system of colonial law, Mr. Perry said.  That law treated every crime as an offense against the king, who was presumed to own everything in the country.  Fines were no longer paid to a victim, but were given to the king, and many crimes were punished by death or mutilation.

Vermont, in its Constitution, bans the latter form of punishment, which it calls “sanguinary punishment,” Mr. Perry said, so a system that turned away from the English model could be seen as being in accord with the intent of the state’s founders.

Mr. Perry found similar ways of meting out justice in such native societies as the Navaho, who resolve criminal offenses with a series of meetings or circles which seek to define the nature of the crime and gradually, through discussion, to find a way to mend the damage.

Whenever they hit a problem, Mr. Page would create a report that analyzed the situation in detail and proposed a solution, Mr. Perry said.

“He was right every damned time,” he recalled.

Mr. Patrissi said Mr. Page showed great patience with the group.

“Here we were, with this genius, who already knew where this was going to go,” he said.  “We were in the hands of a genius.”

When Governor Snelling returned to office after Governor Kunin finished her last term, he called Mr. Patrissi in and demanded 12 great ideas, Mr. Patrissi said.

He liked the proposal for a reparative justice program and, after his sudden death, so did his replacement, Governor Howard Dean.

In order to figure out how to sell the program to Vermonters, the DOC wrote a grant and hired a polling firm to conduct the sort of market research that might be undertaken before a company like Proctor and Gamble launches a product, said Mr. Perry.

After conducting focus groups and an extensive telephone poll, the results were in.  The people of Vermont hated the DOC, they also disliked the state’s attorneys, criminal defense lawyers and judges.  They did like juries, though, Mr. Perry said.

“They trusted themselves,” he concluded.

Vermonters were also very positive about the reparative justice system when it was explained to them.  The polls showed 92 to 94 percent favorability ratings, Mr. Perry said.

“Nothing gets 94 percent favorability ratings,” he said.

The first attempts at operating a reparative justice system were run through the DOC, but it soon became clear that the program would work better if it were handled by community members through an organization outside state government.

That led to the creation of community justice centers.

Over the years, the results of the reparative board have proved the worth of the idea.  A 2007 study was hard to publish, said Mr. Perry, because journals found it hard to believe that recidivism could be reduced in Vermont by 26 percent through the process.

Since the creation of restorative justice programs, Vermont has been frequently visited by representatives from other states and other countries seeking to learn from the state’s experience.

Because Vermont has a unified corrections system, unlike other states with county, city and other government subdivisions running jails, its database is the most comprehensive in the country — a boon for researchers, Mr. Perry said.

Still, he and Mr. Gorczyk said they are not satisfied with the system as it exists.  They feel it is underused.

Mr. Perry said he is pleased to see many schools are beginning to use the principles of restorative justice is dealing with infractions such as bullying.  The results, he said, are very promising.

State law prohibits the use of reparative boards for some crimes, such as domestic abuse.  Mr. Perry said he regrets that and believes the practice can achieve excellent results in those cases, if used properly.

Mr. Gorczyk said he has been pessimistic about the future of reparative justice until recently, but said the new Senate-passed bill is giving him renewed hope.

For Mr. Perry, it’s important to take the long view.

“We’re only 20 years into what will be a 100-year process,” he said.

This is the second of a three-part series on community justice.  The first part was in the February 19 issue of the Chronicle, and can be read here.

contact Joseph Gresser at joseph@bartonchronicle.com

For more free articles from the Chronicle like this one, see our Editor’s Picks pages.  For all the Chronicle’s stories, pick up a print copy or subscribe, either for print or digital editions.

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At NCUHS: Spidey swings from NYC to Newport

G.G. Rafuse produced this striking image as the log for The Spidey Project’s original off-Broadway production.

G.G. Rafuse produced this striking image as the log for The Spidey Project’s original off-Broadway production.

copyright the Chronicle March 12, 2014

by Joseph Gresser

NEWPORT — A musical with music written by one North Country Union High School (NCUHS) alumnus and directed by another, will swing into town on Friday, May 16, for a single performance.  The staging of The Spidey Project will benefit the school’s Art and Communications Academy and help fund its fall musical production.

Chase Gosselin, who graduated from the high school in 2012 and is now engaged in a variety of theatrical enterprises in New York City, is slated to direct the show, which has a script written by Justin Moran and Jonathan Roufaeal, and music composed by Newport native Adam Podd and Doug Katsaros.

The show was created when Mr. Moran posted a video announcing the production as a response to the long-delayed and phenomenally costly Broadway production of Spiderman:  Turn Off The Dark.

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In Newport City: Morrissette elected as alderman

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Neil Morrissette.  Photo by Joseph Gresser

Neil Morrissette. Photo by Joseph Gresser

by Joseph Gresser

copyright the Chronicle 3-5-2014

NEWPORT—Newport has a new alderman.  Voters went to the polls Tuesday and elected Neil Morrissette to replace former council member Tim de la Bruere who decided not to stand for re-election.

They also returned incumbent Alderman John Wilson for another two-year term, his seventh.  Mr. Wilson led all candidates with 369 votes, Mr. Morrissette had 286 and Corey Therrien finished out of the money with 225 votes.

Mr. Therrien did not go home empty handed, though.  Running unopposed, he won election to an open seat on the North Country Union High School board with 388 votes.

No candidates submitted petitions for a vacant seat on the Newport City School Board, but two citizens ran write-in campaigns.  With 31 votes Mary Ellen Prairie squeaked in ahead of Jacques Roberge, who garnered 19 votes.

Newport voters exhibited their usual generosity, approving all appropriation requests by wide margins.

The city budget request of $3-million was granted by a vote of 354 to 125.  The Newport City Elementary School’s budget had a narrower margin of victory, but it still passed, 279 to 214.

City voters also approved the North Country Union High School and North Country Union Junior High School budgets.

contact Joseph Gresser at joseph@bartonchronicle.com

To read all 20 Town Meeting stories, pick up the paper or subscribe to our digital edition.

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In Newport: An inside look at a chance for redemption

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Terry Collins, Isobel Marks and Ed Brochu (left to right) discuss the contents of Damion’s contract with him (back to camera).  “The most important thing is to show respect,” Ms. Marks said.  “I don’t think the offenders expect that, they think they’re going to be punished for being bad people.”  Photo by Joseph Gresser

Terry Collins, Isobel Marks and Ed Brochu (left to right) discuss the contents of Damion’s contract with him (back to camera). “The most important thing is to show respect,” Ms. Marks said. “I don’t think the offenders expect that, they think they’re going to be punished for being bad people.” Photo by Joseph Gresser

copyright the Chronicle February 19, 2014

by Joseph Gresser

NEWPORT — A slight man with dark hair and a neatly trimmed beard walked into a small room at the Community Justice Center here and looked around at the three people who, in the course of an hour’s conversation, could help shape his future.

Walter Medwid, coordinator of Newport’s reparative justice system, had already met Damion (for the sake of privacy, only offenders’ first names are used in this story).  He shook his hand and introduced him to Ed Brochu, Isobel Marks, and Terry Collins, who also greeted the young man warmly.

Having pled guilty in November to unlawful trespass in an occupied dwelling, Damion was reporting to a reparative board, one of the less-heralded parts of Vermont’s criminal justice system.

The reparative justice program is intended to repair the damage to the community that a crime causes, and to persuade the person who committed the act to accept responsibility and make amends.  The program is also designed to let the offender know that, once those goals are reached, he or she is again in the community’s good graces.  It’s intended primarily for first-time lawbreakers who commit non-violent offenses.

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Jay Peak’s plans for rec center remain in limbo

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Jay Peak Resort hopes to build this recreation center on the ski area’s Stateside.  The front entrance is planned to be 14 feet tall and face the Stateside parking area.  The back wall of the metal-faced building would be 22 feet tall and face Route 242.  Inside, the proposed center would have climbing walls, a movie theater, arcade games, and a horizontal ropes course.  Image courtesy of Jay Peak Resort

Jay Peak Resort hopes to build this recreation center on the ski area’s Stateside. The front entrance is planned to be 14 feet tall and face the Stateside parking area. The back wall of the metal-faced building would be 22 feet tall and face Route 242. Inside, the proposed center would have climbing walls, a movie theater, arcade games, and a horizontal ropes course. Image courtesy of Jay Peak Resort

copyright the Chronicle February 12, 2014

by Joseph Gresser

JAY—Jay Peak Resort’s plan to build a recreation center with a 145-seat movie theater and climbing walls remains in limbo.  The Jay Planning Commission and Zoning Board (two bodies with one set of members) tabled the application Monday night until March 10.

The commission came out of a deliberative session that lasted an hour and a half to express its dissatisfaction with the area’s provisions for parking for the new facility and concern about the building’s effect on the views along Route 242.

The planning commission met Monday night to reconsider the project, which had been refused a permit based on parking and public safety concerns after it was first presented in January.

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Vermont Vaudeville debuts in Barton to sold out crowd

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Brent McCoy (left) and Maya McCoy, the stars of The Secret Circus, don their action suits for a feat of skill and daring.  The couple will demonstrate their marksmanship and comedic talents Saturday evening at Barton’s Memorial Building.  Photo by Joseph Gresser

Brent McCoy (left) and Maya McCoy, the stars of The Secret Circus, don their action suits for a feat of skill and daring. The couple will demonstrate their marksmanship and comedic talents Saturday evening at Barton’s Memorial Building. Photo by Joseph Gresser

copyright the Chronicle January 29, 2014
by Joseph Gresser

BARTON — Vermonters have always had a yen for local entertainment.  Most towns, including Barton, boast theaters that once hosted traveling shows that toured the country.

Barton’s Memorial Building will welcome a revival of that tradition Saturday night, when Vermont Vaudeville comes to town.

The group, made up of a four-person core and guest performers, has embarked on a nine-town tour of Vermont over the next six weeks as part of its campaign to revive locally produced and consumed entertainment.

Justin Lander, Rose Friedman and Brent and Maya McCoy started their troupe five years ago with an inaugural performance at the Orleans Municipal Building.  Since then they have presented several sold-out shows at the Hardwick Town House every year.

In a conversation on an icy January evening at the East Hardwick home of Ms. Friedman and Mr. Lander, the performers reflected on their journey so far and their plans for the future.

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Spates Block sale spurs Newport City reappraisal

Newport's Spates Block just sold for $2.85-million.  Photo by Joseph Gresser

Newport’s Spates Block just sold for $2.85-million. Photo by Joseph Gresser

copyright the Chronicle January 8, 2014

by Joseph Gresser

NEWPORT — The $2.85-million sale of the Spates Block will change the face of downtown Newport.  It will also require the city to revalue all property on its Grand List.

According to a memo from City Assessor Spencer Potter, the sale, along with the $1.1-million sale of the properties on which the new Maplefields gas station is to be built, will bring a call from the state for mandatory reappraisal.

City Manager John Ward urged the aldermen to act quickly on the matter at the city council’s meeting Monday night.  They heeded his advice and unanimously agreed to proceed with a full reappraisal of Newport.

Mr. Ward said it is quite possible that new sales will drop the city’s Common Level of Appraisal (CLA) enough that the state will raise education tax rates to compensate.  The CLA is a measure the state uses to ensure fairness in the statewide tax by making sure appraisals in all towns generally match the results of actual sales.

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Flight Design USA will hire 100

Governor Peter Shumlin cuts the ribbon on the Stateside Baselodge on Friday, December 20.  On hand to celebrate the opening, from left to right, are:  Vermont Commissioner of Commerce and Community Development Lawrence Miller, Filippe Acciolye, an investor in the project from Brazil, Ariel Quiros, co-owner of Jay Peak, Governor Shumlin, state Senator John Rodgers, state Senator Robert Starr, Bill Stenger, co-owner of Jay Peak, Steve Wright, marketing director for Jay Peak, and William Kelly, counsel for Jay Peak.  Photos by Joseph Gresser

Governor Peter Shumlin cuts the ribbon on the Stateside Baselodge on Friday, December 20. On hand to celebrate the opening, from left to right, are: Vermont Commissioner of Commerce and Community Development Lawrence Miller, Filippe Acciolye, an investor in the project from Brazil, Ariel Quiros, co-owner of Jay Peak, Governor Shumlin, state Senator John Rodgers, state Senator Robert Starr, Bill Stenger, co-owner of Jay Peak, Steve Wright, marketing director for Jay Peak, and William Kelly, counsel for Jay Peak. Photos by Joseph Gresser

by Joseph Gresser

JAY — At the opening of the new Stateside Baselodge Friday, Jay officials threw in a pair of bonus announcements.  A new aircraft company will bring more than 100 skilled jobs to Coventry, and the sale of the Spates Block on Main Street in Newport to Jay Peak co-owners Bill Stenger and Ariel Quiros has been finalized.

At a press conference that followed the opening of the 84-room hotel, Mr. Quiros said he has bought Flight Design USA, the company that announced plans this summer to assemble and sell ultra-light planes at the Newport State Airport in Coventry.

Flight Design USA was the American branch of a German company, and the initial agreement allowed the Newport branch to act as one of six U.S. distributors of the company’s two-seater plane.

The new company, called Flight Design Americas, LLC, will have exclusive rights to sell planes in North America, South America and Central America, Mr. Quiros said.

The company expects to hire around 100 engineers, trained mechanics and assembly workers, he said.  It projects sales of as many as 200 planes a year by the third year of production.

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In Superior Court: Attempted murder charge against North Troy stabber dropped

Jennifer Ahlquist, right, sits with her lawyer, Jill Jourdan, at her arraignment in March.  Ms. Ahlquist admitted stabbing her husband and on Thursday, December 5, received a sentence that did not include jail time.  Photo by Joseph Gresser

Jennifer Ahlquist, right, sits with her lawyer, Jill Jourdan, at her arraignment in March. Ms. Ahlquist admitted stabbing her husband and on Thursday, December 5, received a sentence that did not include jail time. Photo by Joseph Gresser

copyright the Chronicle December 11, 2013

by Joseph Gresser

NEWPORT — Jennifer Ahlquist, who stabbed her husband after finding him at a 19-year-old’s house, will not do jail time.  Under the terms of a plea agreement, Ms. Ahlquist, 41, of North Troy, saw the most serious charge against her — attempted second degree murder — dismissed by the state.

She pled guilty to felony charges of first degree aggravated domestic assault with a weapon and unlawful trespass in an occupied residence, as well as to simple assault.

Sentencing for the aggravated assault charge was deferred for seven years and six months, said Judge Gregory Rainville, who presided Thursday, December 5, in the Orleans Criminal Division of Superior Court.  That means the charge will be expunged from Ms. Ahlquist’s record if she does not get into further legal trouble in that period.

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